TPC Sawgrass presents much intrigue before the final stretch

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Hitting off the tee is just the start of the fun on No. 4 at TPC Sawgrass.
May 08, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- More photographs, with cell phones and standard-issue cameras, are probably taken at the 17th hole on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass than any other golf hole in the world. With the possible exception of those fortunate enough to walk across the Swilcan Bridge on the way to the 18th green on the Old Course at St. Andrews, that is.

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The par 3, which covers a mere 137 yards, nearly all of it over water, is iconic. And taken in context with its nearest neighbors, the 523-yard par-5 16th that can be generous if not occasionally greedy, and the par-4 18th that annually plays as the Stadium's toughest hole, the finishing stretch is one of the most challenging in the game.

But what about the rest of Pete Dye's signature creation? Given the list of winners -- big-hitters like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, tacticians like Fred Funk and Tim Clark -- the revered course designer has constructed a most democratic layout so there are sure to be a variety of opinions.

"There's not a lot I really don't like," Ben Crane said. "If it's not my favorite course, it's one of my top five." And what's not to like when you have finished sixth or better in three of your last four starts at THE PLAYERS Championship?

With the finishing stretch as memorable as it is, other holes on the challenging 7,215-yard layout can go underappreciated in comparison. So PGATOUR.COM went to the experts, the men who make their living playing the best courses around the globe, to see which ones they thought were underrated.

Take the second hole, for example. The 532-yard par 5, reachable by nearly everyone in the field, features thick woods on either side of the fairway and a lateral water hazard to the right of the narrow sloped landing area for well-placed drives. Ample bunkering, both grass and sand, protects the green, along with a small pond.

"I don't know that it's underraated but it's very important -- especially when you start on the front," said Lucas Glover, who finished third at THE PLAYERS in 2010. "So three of the days if you play (all) four it gives you an opportunity to get off to a good start because it's a shortish par 5, reachable in two and you can get your round going. So I don't know if it's underrated, I just think it's pivotal to the start of your round."

Geoff Ogilvy says the second hole is his favorite on the front nine.

"I think No. 2's a good hole because everyone in the field can reach it in two," the Aussie said. "It's a draw-off-the-tee-and-a-fade-second-shot kind of hole so you have to be able to move it left to right if you want to be able to get there which I think it's nice to demand that every now and then. No. 2 is a really cool hole."

Carl Pettersson, who tied for eighth at THE PLAYERS in 2006, pointed out that it's difficult to draw a drive with the new equipment. "Yet again, (No. 2 is) a great, great hole," he said. "... It's a tough par 5. It's doable, but it's tough."

At 384 yards, the downhill fourth hole is the shortest par 4 on the front nine on the Stadium Course, but that certainly doesn't mean it's a pushover. There's water and a deep fairway bunker on the right of the fairway while a cluster of mounds protect the left side. The small, undulating two-tiered green is difficult to hit under the best of circumstances and a water hazard looms to the front and left of the green.

"Four is a hole where it's just such a tight fairway people really don't talk about that hole much," Crane said. "But that's it -- it's such a challenging hole. If you get it in the fairway, it's like a two-shot swing. You have a great opportunity to knock it closer there. So 4's a pivotal hole."

Glover agrees that finding the fairway is essential at the fourth hole because "there's no room for error," he said. "Your distance control has to be perfect there." And when it is? "I think every year you see someone hole one out there on the left, the ball rolling down the slope (into the cup)," Bill Haas said.

Haas, the reigning FedExCup champion, also likes the ninth hole which narrows significantly from tee to green. The 583-yard par 5, which is dissected by a creek and features a tiny, thin, well-bunkered green, only surrendered three eagles last year. A lake and large bunker collect drives that stray right while a stand of oak trees can complicate the situation for errant second shots.

"No. 9's a great par 5," Haas said. "You can make 6 there or you can make 3. And certainly I think you can play that hole in even or over par for the week and it will really hurt you. But if you play it under par, like you're supposed to for a par 5, it can really help your score."

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Pettersson, who won the RBC Heritage last month on another Pete Dye creation at Harbour Town Golf Links, thinks there are a lot of great holes on the Stadium Course. Two of his favorites are the 10th and 14th, which Pettersson calls "one of the hardest holes out there," and tied with No. 18 for the most difficult a year ago.

The 14th is visually intimidating with a lateral water hazard and narrow fairway bunker on the left side of the landing area and large mounding on the right. There's a large bunker between the landing area and an undulating green that is framed by trees to the left and sand and grass to the right and back.

"It's an awkward driving hole," the Swede said. "... You don't want to miss it left or right. And it's an awkward shot in."

The 10th hole isn't as much of a challenge but Pettersson likes the way the 424-yard par 4 sets up. The hole doglegs left with a bunker that stretches down the length of the fairway and dense trees to the right. A well-struck fairway wood sets up a middle- to short-iron to a well-protected green that is deceptively narrow and fades away from the player.

"No. 10 is not overly long -- it's actually a birdie opportunity -- but you've got to really shape your shot right to left off the tee and almost hit a cut for your second shot," Pettersson said. "It's just a cool hole."

One of many, too.

"Every hole out there is good I think," Pettersson said. "It doesn't have any bad holes. It's a very good golf course and I always enjoyed playing it."

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